Government will decide on export licence to Saudi Arabia

Shortened Report, original published November 30th, 2011

The Finnish Government will soon decide whether it will grant Patria the license to export 36 Nemo heavy mortar systems to a third-party country in a deal conducted within the US Government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme framework.

The Finnish mortar deal has been brought under critical scrutiny in the Lessons from MENA report, published in November 2011 by the Ghent University in Belgium. The writers of the report, the leading European arms exports researchers, An Vranckx, Frank Slijper and Roy Isbister fear that the official goals of Finnish foreign policy, such as promotion of democracy, gender questions, and peacebuilding, will be neglected due to the strategic and economic interests connected with the mortar deal.

According to the report a negative decision on the export license: is also likely to exclude the company from further cooperation with North American partners that brought Patria in on a far larger US Government programme. As relations with the US are important for Finland, the country’s commitment to democracy and human rights is likely at the risk of being sacrificed.

The Lessons from MENA report reminds us of the risks included when exporting arms to Saudi Arabia. The country is a dictatorship, has a weak human rights record, civil society organisations such as labour unions are prohibited, and the country’s arms trade is allegedly connected with severe corruption. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has attacked Yemenese territory and has sent troops to Bahrain to assist during the violent suppression of the uprising.

Traditionally, only certain types of defence material have been considered a risk regarding human rights, but the experiences of the Arab Spring have proven this assumption wrong. The report also reminds us that Libya and Syria have notably used heavy weaponry to suppress the uprisings. Gaddafi’s troops bombarded the city of Misrata with cluster munitions.

The report examines the EU Common Position on Arms Export in the light of North African and Middle Eastern events of 2011. It combines data on EU-origin arms used in suppressing the uprisings. Simultaneously, Amnesty International presented a fresh report which brought into focus the export of Finnish sniper rifles to Bahrain. The information is based on research concluded by SaferGlobe Finland. The EU will evaluate the implementation of the Common Position in 2012.

The EU Common Position Does not Replace National Policy
For the Lessons From MENA report, the Finnish Civil Society Conflict Prevention Network (KATU) and SaferGlobe Finland interviewed by email the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erkki Tuomioja, the Finnish Minister for International Development, Heidi Hautala, the Finnish Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, Alexander Stubb, and the Finnish Minister of Defence, Stefan Wallin, whether they would be ready to grant an export licence for the Nemo system to Saudi Arabia or not.

The Minister of Defence, Stefan Wallin, leader of the ministry responsible for the actual license, did not answer. The three other ministers gave a joint answer, according to which a comprehensive evaluation will be made on the matter.
– In this particular case it is important to take the human rights situation into account. According to the EU Common Position, export licenses should not be granted if the end-user country might use the weapons for internal repression, the ministers answered.

An Vranckx considers the EU Common Position only a process of deliberation and the actual export license a clearly political decision.
– A Nemo-yes […] would be a Finnish political decision, after a deliberation process that seems to be going quite ’according to the book’. [In case of a Nemo-yes] the situation would be a bit similar to the Belgian go-ahead decision regarding FN Herstal’s export license to Libya, a process that is described in detail in our report. Absolutely all the decision-making mechanisms which the Common Position proscribes, in terms of procedures and deliberations, were followed only to be pushed aside, last minute, by a politial decision to ignore all the recommendations for caution.

From the viewpoint of the EU Common Position, it would be hard to justify an export license to Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, there has been only one negative decision on arms exports licences from the EU to Saudi Arabia during the last ten years. Within the same time frame, there were thirty disapprovals altogether of arms exports to the Persian Gulf countries.

Lessons from MENA – Appraising EU Transfers of Military and Security Equipment to the Middle East and North Africa, A Contribution to the Review of the EU Common Position (2011) An Vranckx, Frank Slijper and Roy Ibister (Eds.), Academia Press Gent, Belgium.

Previous reports on the same topic (in English): Finnish Arms Company Sells Mortar System to Saudi Arabia (13/05/2011).